David Schneider: My show is no shmekldekeray


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The Independent Culture

Schlepp, nosh, mishmash, chutzpah, schmooze, bagel, klutz, maven, schmaltz: all words that have made their way into English from Yiddish.

Writing my play Making Stalin Laugh, about the Moscow Yiddish Theatre, brought me back into contact with this wonderful language, so here are a few choice words and phrases.

Shlemihl and Shlimazl: as Eskimos have many different words for snow, Yiddish has many for fool. Thus, a shlemihl is someone who drops soup in a shlimazl’s lap.

Brenen zolstu – on strakhovne!: The perfect two-part Yiddish insult: “May you burn – without insurance!” Because just being burnt alone isn’t enough.

Az di bobe volt gehat a bord, volt zi geven a zeyde: “If granny had had a beard, she’d have been granddad”. A reminder not to obsess about what might have been.

A likhtikn ganeydn zol er hobn: “May he enjoy a sweet paradise” – said of a beloved deceased. Or, with typical Yiddish irony, of someone you’d like to depart this world as soon as possible.

Shmekldeker: proof that Yiddish has moved with the times. From shmekl, the diminutive of shmuk (penis), and deker (a cover), this is some Yiddish speakers’ term for “condom”. See also the collective term: shmekldekeray, “a cock-up”.

‘Making Stalin Laugh’, JW3, London NW3, 15 June to 9 July (020-7433 8988; www.jw3.org.uk)